Dr. Douglas Drevets, OU Infectious Diseases Chief, Speaks With KWGS About New Vaccine PSA Campaign

Apr 5, 2021

A new national PSA campaign is targeting communities like Republicans and white evangelicals, who have lower confidence in the COVID-19 vaccines. OU Health chief of infectious diseases Dr. Douglas Drevets spoke with Public Radio Tulsa's Chris Polansky about the "It's Up To You" campaign.

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PUBLIC RADIO TULSA: I was hoping you could start by just telling me a little bit about the campaign and what makes it important for Oklahoma.

DR. DOUGLAS DREVETS: So the campaign is a collaboration between the Ad Council and then a variety of national organizations, one of which I'm involved with, which is the Infectious Diseases Society of America. So it's my professional organization as an infectious diseases physician that I work with, and we have meetings and the like.

And what's important about it for Oklahoma is that -- I think everybody knows that we have done a great job of getting vaccinated, but we really do not want to lose the momentum. So, a lot of it is directed at keeping that momentum going and keeping the vaccination interest going. We also want to reach out to people who are unsure if they want to get the vaccine or not and try to give them the best information that we can to perhaps possibly convince them that, yes, it's a safe and effective vaccine and it's something they want to do.

PRT: You know, when I hear "it's up to you," I'm not sure if I'm hearing that as a, you know, "it's up to you, you have a responsibility to get vaccinated," or, "it's up to you -- hey, it's up to you if you want to get this or not." How do you communicate that or how do you interpret that?

DREVETS: Well, I think it's a "both-and." It is up to each individual to be responsible, but yet it is also a choice that we all have to make. So it's both of those circumstances and, I think, others. So you're also, you're putting out the idea that as citizens, as community members, as family members, we do have a responsibility to the people around us -- not just the people we love, not just the people in our family, but also to the community at large. 

But yet it also recognizes we are individuals and that we all have agency, that the vaccine, and also other medical therapies, even though they may be good for you, we don't as a country mandate these at this point. You could have heart disease, but there's no law that you have to, say, take your statins and your high blood pressure pills. You know, at this point we don't have a mandate for the vaccine -- and of course having a respiratory virus that is contagious is a little bit different than having, say, high blood pressure and heart disease, which is not contagious. You know, I could sit on a bus all day and not pass my high blood pressure to anybody else, but sitting on a bus all day you certainly can pass respiratory viruses and other infectious diseases to other people. So there's a little bit of a nuance there, but I think it includes a lot of things, and we want to communicate that to folks. That, yes, they have a choice, and they can choose to be responsible, and yes, it's a good thing to do.

PRT: Now, this is a little bit outside the bounds of this specific campaign but it is pertinent regarding convincing folks to get vaccinated. Gov. Stitt recently got the vaccine, the J&J/Janssen, on camera. He happens to be a Republican and a Christian. Is that sort of thing efficacious in convincing folks or setting an example and getting folks to follow suit?

DREVETS: You know, it's hard for me to say. My guess is there are folks, particularly in this state, who do look up to Gov. Stitt and did want to see his leadership in this. So I would expect it is important for some people. I don't know the extent to which it is important to everybody, to be honest. 

You know, I was able to be vaccinated relatively early in the campaign, and that's in part because as a clinician I was routinely seeing patients in the hospital with COVID, so I fell in one of the earlier groups to get vaccine. And so I was certainly up-front about it when I received my vaccine and was very honest with people that, yes, it made my arm hurt, yes I felt achy the next day, but on balance I was very excited to get it and very grateful that I could get vaccinated. And it did, you know, sort of change my perspective every day that I would walk into the hospital. You know, it took a little bit of the edge off in a sense when I would go make hospital rounds. So I think it is important for people to see, you know, their local leaders in a sense practice what they preach.

PRT: I wonder what your thoughts are on -- I feel like there's some messaging out there, I don't know how widespread it is, but there are some folks who want to use kind of, you know, shaming. You know, "we all need to get the vaccine, what's wrong with you," kind of a scolding tone to folks who are hesitant to it or outright refusing. From a public health standpoint, is there anything empirical to suggest whether that's a good idea or a bad idea, to use that kind of messaging?

DREVETS: In general, I can say that when I am trying to encourage good behavior -- I guess I should say when I'm trying to encourage healthy behavior in my patients, shaming is not something that's ever been effective. Whether it's to get people to lose weight, to get people to change the way they eat so their cholesterol goes down, to stop smoking or to smoke less, or even to take their medicine every day, shaming is generally an ineffective way to do that. 

I think it works better if I have some connection with the individual -- and most of these folks I've been seeing more than once -- and, you know, just talk to them about what's important to them. And most people, good health and life and better quality of life is indeed important, and I think that's where you have to reach people, is understand where they're at.

And, you know, it's natural for folks to have questions about a vaccine, it's natural for folks to be somewhat hesitant about it, and so I think you really have to communicate a little bit differently with individuals, find out what their hesitations are, find out why they think that way, and, you know, then you have to do the best you can with providing good answers.

PRT: And now, my last question is -- and I know you're doing this interview with the hopes that this -- we avoid this entirely, but, is there a potential that, you know, no matter how much messaging, how much presentation of the science there is, there's going to be a critical mass of folks who just still refuse and will never get vaccinated? You know, are we in danger of never reaching that level of immunity that we need for herd immunity?

DREVETS: Well, that's an interesting question and I appreciate you answering [sic] that. I think that there are going to be some people who refuse to get vaccinated for various reasons. And the way I look at that is, there are more or less three or four kinds of folks: those who've been vaccinated, those who have had COVID and those who are about to get COVID. And so everybody in the country is going to get immune one way or another. There's just, I don't see it being feasible that this organism is going to go away. It is going to go through the population, and I think it is just a matter of time before everybody has their very personal encounter with it. So, in that sense, everybody is going to get immune and we will reach, you might say "herd immunity," one way or the other.

Obviously, as a medical professional, I would very much prefer and very much counsel people, you want to get immune through the vaccine. You know, when you look at the health toll, the death toll, the hospitalization toll that the virus causes, it's a much, much better deal to take the vaccine and get immunity that way. So if we have a higher degree of uptake of the vaccine, I think we will get to sort of that point where the virus will kind of putter out and not have sustained outbreaks, which is what herd immunity is. It doesn't mean this virus goes away, it just means that each outbreak is not going to be self-sustaining. And so we will get there one way or another. 

In a way it's like this old commercial about changing your oil and your oil filter. It showed a mechanic doing an overhaul on an engine and he said, "Well, you can pay me now or you can pay me later." And in a sense that's the way the virus treats us. You know, you can get immune now or you can get immune later, but I don't think any of us are going to escape it. So I appreciate the fact that some folks are not going to get vaccinated. I hope it's a very small percentage. And I hope that by doing these spots that I can perhaps convince a few other people to go ahead and get the vaccine before they get ill.